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Thursday, April 19, 2007

TROUBLE
As you know, Howie Kendrick has been placed on the DL, and is not expected back in the lineup for four to six weeks.

Howie is one of the only guys in the lineup who had his bat going, hitting 327/365/490 in his 14 games. He had made three errors at second, but otherwise was settling into a regular role somewhat nicely.

It is unclear what the Angels will do in Howie's absence, but we may be as close as one week away from Legs Figgins making his first appearance of the season, which will simplify matters; Figgins can return to third and send Maicer Izturis over to second, or vice versa.

What to do for the next week (or possibly beyond, if Figgins isn't able to come back in time)? The current on-roster solution would be to put Erick Aybar there. Aybar has plenty of defensive skills at short, but isn't as familiar with second. That's a frequent conversion, of course, but we don't know how skilled he may be on the pivot.

Another solution would be to bring up someone from the minors; Brandon Wood (off to an okay 293/373/534 in 58 at-bats at AAA, but with 18 strikeouts) could come up to play third (once again moving Ztu to the keystone) or Kendry Morales (314/340/412 in 51 AB) could come up to DH, moving Robb Quinlan and Shea Hillenbrand into some kind of timeshare at third.

I don't really know what solution is more promising. I don't think either Wood or Aybar are particularly ready to hit in the majors, and Kendry's not off to a stirring start in the minors (though it's only been a couple of weeks, so it's too early to draw conclusions off of that), but the recent offensive ineptitude may lead to Wood or Morales getting the call just because things can't get worse. Both of those guys are capable of getting off to the hot start that Mike Napoli did last year, which would be a nice kick in the pants to a dormant lineup.

Under normal circumstances, I'd say just put Aybar there for a week and see what he can do. But with Maicer Izturis batting in the third spot, this is a lineup completely devoid of punch, just waiting to string single after single together to scratch together runs. Even if Vlad returns tomorrow and healthy, he can only bat when he comes up. So I wouldn't be surprised to see Wood or Morales get the call.

***

It would be churlish to blame John Lackey for the loss yesterday, but he did do some things to annoy me. He did struggle to locate his fastball from time to time, but was mostly getting good results from it, it seemed to me, so you can imagine my frustration when he kept slurving and slurving when he got in trouble.

(I don't know what to call that pitch. John called it a slider when he came up, even though it looks just like a curveball, just with a little bit of sweep to it. The announcers always called it a curveball, and last year in an interview Lackey referred to a curve and slider separately. I think the "slider" is some kind of cut fastball, I don't know; he doesn't seem to throw that one so much. So I'm calling his big breaking pitch a slurve. And you can't stop me.)

He had Shannon Stewart down 0-2 in the third, with no outs and runners on first and second, and slurved him to first base to load the bag. He did get Nick Swisher to ground into a forceout on the slurve, and then mislocated his fastball to allow a hit to Eric Chavez. But I thought the appearance against Stewart caused the trouble.

That didn't bother me so much as in the fifth, when Nick Swisher came up again, this time with a runner on second and two outs. Since he had got him with the slurve in his previous AB, Lackey went to it again, and got a couple over for a 1-2 count. I was hoping he's show Swisher the change away and bust him back inside with the fastball if necessary, but instead he kept throwing that slurve inside. He missed the strike zone three straight times, which brought up Eric Chavez.

So what does he do with Chavez? Slurve inside corner that Chavez wants nothing of, slurve for a ball, fastball way up and in, and then ... slurve hung inside that Chavez has no trouble timing, as Lackey has thrown like 45 straight of 'em before that meaningless fastball, line drive, base hit, run scored.

Lackey has that nice change-up against lefties, but he seems to abandon it when he gets in trouble.

Did you ever see the movie of The Hunt for Red October? The US submarines are having a bitch of a time tracking the Soviet sub, Red October, on their sonar, because the Red October has this crazy kind of engine that's hard to detect. But one of the US sonar operators figures out that something his computer is telling him is a "seismic anomaly" is really that crazy kind of engine. He explains that the computer was originally designed to track seismic anomalies (earthquakes), and when it gets confused, as it is by the Red October engine, it "runs back to momma" and declares whatever it's hearing as a seismic anomaly.

Anyway, John Lackey is like that computer. When he gets in trouble, he runs back to momma and throws breaking pitch after breaking pitch. Now, that's a great pitch, and it's his out pitch, and he's a terrific pitcher, but when you overuse it guys get used to it, they're not fooled, they time it, and they take it when it's a ball and hit it when it's a strike. Lackey has to make guys earn their hits more often, I think.

What was Lackey's last pitch of the day? One out, man on first, Nick Swisher up. Well-located fastball down, 4-6-3, and he's out of the inning. He's got to trust in that more often.

But until he gets runs, it ain't gonna matter.

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